No other time of year compels us to congregate with family more strongly than the yearend holidays. December approaches and we brave the stressful process of coming together. It doesn’t matter how far away we have roamed. Wherever choice, calling, or circumstance might have transplanted us, at Christmastime and New Year’s, the compass of our hearts points to its true north: Home.
It’s a tugging that refuses to be ignored. And so, as much as we are able, we yield to the homeward pull. In submission we travel the many miles—geographically and, sometimes, even emotionally—until our feet land on familiar and familial ground.
And then, there in the place of our beginnings, in the presence of family (the very people who forever hold the power to immensely bless us or deeply wound us), we revisit memories both fond and painful, alternately celebrating and mourning.
We study with great interest one another’s appearances: the wrinkles imposed by the years, the loss or gain of pounds and inches; the aural glow or lack of it, the posture that’s become more confident or stooped. We point out both the familiar and the novel: You still have the same smile… Why, he seems more at peace with himself now… There is something different about her… I had feared you would never outgrow your childishness…
Laughter easily becomes the gathering’s theme song, more loved than any of the season’s carols, but not without intervals of silence pregnant with emotional meanings. Parents and their grown children engage one another with tentativeness, unsure of how to show their love to the other now that the long years have changed many things in their lives. Siblings, now all grown-up, awkwardly straddle uncommon and common grounds, inevitably stepping on each other’s toes in the process.
Only by the grace of a Heavenly Father is there a genuine coming-together, not only of bodies, but of hearts. Hearts once so similar now differentiated by time and space can still find their unity.
Parents realize to let go of their sons and daughters, to respect the adults they have become, to become their offsprings’ friends more than their judges. Children resolve to hold on to their roots, to cherish and honor their parents, to refuse to water seeds of resentment sown in childhood. Brothers and sisters discover the need to accept the other, to respect the differences and yet refuse to let these get in the way of celebrating a shared heritage.
In the air is a mixture of pleasure and peeve, a bittersweet blend that only family can concoct. Spontaneous expressions of love may have gotten rusty because of the years and the distances spent apart. The right words are hard to come by. Thankfully, a kiss is still a kiss, a smile still a smile, and a hug still a hug. And when, in humility, we give and receive these simple acts of love, there is no room for misinterpreting. We are home again.